Answer this question real quick: What was the most impressive thing you did 2 years ago at work? Did you get the proper accolades for it? Or, possibly more important, did you get a performance-based wage increase or some other reward?
Perhaps you can’t remember that task - or maybe it wasn’t brought up during your review. So, who is at fault for that? The answer might not be something you want to admit - it’s you.
The What and Why
It’s important to track your work accomplishments for three reasons. First, let’s consider personal motivation. The reason people track exercise goals, take pictures of their house being built, or any other process is to keep motivated and to be proud of these steps. If you consider your job your career, you should be doing the same things. They don’t call it the “career path” for nothing. To keep motivated and remember your hard work on your path, document it.
Second, should you have to update your resume, you can review a list of accomplishments at your last position to build your skills section. It’s good to pull out the most impressive “wins” and use them as quantifiable building blocks for your resume and/or cover letter.
Finally, it’s about accountability. One of the most important things that you can do for your career is participate in your annual review. Too often, we let “the boss” bring all the “ammunition” to the review. Instead, it should be give and take. You both should participate in bringing up “wins,” as well as being honest about areas that you can improve. But, if you’re anything like me, it can be hard to remember what I did 8 days ago, let alone 8 months ago. And if you think this is easier for the boss (who oversees a number of employees), you’re wrong. You need to bring these things as a reminder of all the positive ways you’ve contributed to the company.
It’s good to have some sort of mechanism to remind you to track your accomplishments. I can think of at least two ways to do it.
The first requires more self-discipline: after each larger project, carve out time to write or record the task details and your involvement in each.
The second way, my favorite way, is to set up a recurring monthly reminder. You might use a recurring monthly reminder in your todo application - or in my case, I add an entry once a month to my calendar. When the day arrives, I treat this as an important task that can not be moved or dismissed. I consider it the same importance as a bug or an emergency. It must be done, because I need it to be done; it’s required for my professional health.
Some might argue that a “personal task” like this should not be considered so high priority, but I disagree. I think it’s important that we force time to be carved out for our career measurement and growth. Becoming a stronger employee only benefits your organization further. If you work for a place that does not value professional growth periodically like this, it’s probably a sign that they’re not a suitable partner for your long-term growth anyway.
From a tool point of view, this is really up to you. Whatever you use, you should try to make sure that it’s something that allows you to enter details quickly and easily. If it takes too long to enter the details, you may give up on the process. I tend to do the actual organization and collating of details around review time. (You should be preparing for reviews already anyway, right?) You might try using Evernote, Notes, Ulysses or even my Alfred Did This script.
What to Write
It’s important to provide context to what you’re writing. If you’re reading your notes a few months later, you might not remember what things meant. A general rule would be to include the following types of information in your note:
- What was the project
- What part did you play
- What is at least one measurement of your work
- What impact did this have on customers
First, you’ll need to describe what this project is. I tend to write detail about the project usually because it’s still fresh in my head. But, since we’re trying to just make this a real fast task, it’s probably even safe to just put references to tickets (if you use a ticket system) or any other documentation assuming it doesn’t go away. You can retrieve the details later.
Next, what role did you play in the project. Were you the lead programmer, were you doing support work, did you participate in planning, etc. This gives important context to the next bullet point:
Measure at least one item of work. If you were to say something like “we put in extra hours,” that sounds fine in conversation, but it’s not really quantifiable later. How many extra hours? Instead, you might try something like “For 3 weeks, I put in 10 extra hours per week, resulting in finalizing more than 400 pages of code.”
What impact did this have on customers? First, indicate what particular customer segment you were serving (external customers, internal stakeholders, your own team members). Then, describe how this positively impacted them. It’s important to have this reminder in your accomplishment because it allows you to draw a correlation between your work and how the company is moving forward and hitting its goals.
No matter how much your employer wants to be fair and empower you, your career is in your own hands. Instead of relying on your boss to be your sole way to measure your career and value, become a partner and keep track of your accomplishments. This will make you more confident, motivated, prepared and make it easier for you to participate in your reviews. Don’t underestimate the need to track information so you remember it later. My favorite line someone once told me: “Remember, you always forget.”